JC Colclasure is a member of the PD Factory Team and a Flight-1 instructor. He has been skydiving for 22 years and has around 20,000 jumps; a vast majority of those have been with a camera attached to him somehow. Read on for a few solid tips and action items for both old hands and aspiring or new camera flyers.
Gear Fear: Get some.
Respect your camera flying equipment – not just what goes on the top of your head, but the whole setup – and inspect it regularly for wear, damage and fatigue. A worn out, damaged BOC or a fatigued pilot chute could result in a premature, delayed, hard or high speed opening and/or a malfunction. Nobody enjoys unexpected surprises at 120-220 mph (especially with extra weight on your body or strapped to your head, neck and shoulders). For the busy cameraman, jumps can add up quickly over the weeks, months and years, Regular, scheduled gear checks will work to reduce the fear of hurting yourself or somebody else accidentally. If you are not an expert in gear maintenance, solicit the services reputable rigger or the to inspect your equipment and provide you with updates every 100 jumps or less. An extra $20 or a few beers at the bar for your rigger towards a gear inspection might just save your life (or someone else’s) down the road. (Side note ~ Borrowing gear for a specialized task like jumping a camera is not typically a good idea – ever.)
Full Responsibility: Take it.
Take full responsibility for your camera flying skills & abilities. Be open and honest about your flying skills and camera flying ability with everyone you jump with. Jumping is a privilege, flying camera(s) is a choice and only you know your true skill and ability level. Whether you are chillin’ at a home DZ or traveling abroad, honesty with yourself and others is NEVER a bad idea. Ask yourself if risking your life and the life of others is really worth the rewards you think you might receive. Breathing should NEVER be taken for granted. Respect yourself, respect others, act and fly responsibly and on purpose always.
Keep Subject(s) in Sight: Always.
Stay alert and keep your head on a swivel, constantly anticipating potentially dangerous situations before you find yourself in one. Keep your eyes on your subject(s) prior to boarding the aircraft, on the aircraft and naturally in free fall. Generally speaking, a person’s behavior on the planet will reflect their behavior off the plane. Jump with people that stick to the plan. Those that ‘plan the dive and dive the plan’ are less likely to be problematic. Skydivers tend to gravitate towards the camera flyer to get that one little “cameo” in during the dive, at the end of the skydive or while under canopy. Unannounced fly-bys, buzz jobs & a slightly mis-judged landing approach could easily alter the quality of the rest of your life or worse…. end your life.
Basic Visual Gear Check: Do it.
Take charge & ownership of your life and your safety as a camera flyer. Never be shy about requesting a basic visual (hands off) gear check before exiting (to those around you). I have caught over a dozen mis-routed chest straps (on experienced jumpers) and at least a half dozen partially dislodged pins or pilot chutes just prior to exit in my career. Those mistakes could easily affect you or the others that you are jumping with. I realize that some people do not want their pin(s) checked & that is okay. There is no excuse for simple visual laziness though. Your efforts to maintain a standard visual safety gear check of at least 3 straps and 3 handles (to those around you) prior to exit can be contagious and is contagious.
Strive to always arrive alive so that we can enjoy the shuck & jive!